Youth Disconnection

There’s a problem with our conception of progress in America today. It’s based on money measures and not much else. Measure of America creates metrics to tell us about how people are doing. One fundamental indicator of societal progress and well-being is how young people are faring in their transition to adulthood. And on this measure, 4.1 million young people are falling behind.

Disconnected youth are teenagers and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither working nor in school. There are 4,114,500 disconnected youth in America today, or about one in nine teens and young adults (10.7 percent).

These vulnerable young people are cut off from the people, institutions, and experiences that would otherwise help them develop the knowledge, skills, maturity, and sense of purpose required to live rewarding lives as adults. And the negative effects of youth disconnection ricochet across the economy, the social sector, the criminal justice system, and the political landscape, affecting us all.


Since Measure of America first wrote about youth disconnection half a decade ago, public awareness of both the plight and the promise of young people who are not in either school or the workforce has grown by leaps and bounds. Today, fewer young people are disconnected from school and work today than were before the Great Recession. But challenges remain: 4.1 million young women and men are still disconnected from the educational and employment opportunities required for rewarding, productive lives.

Until Measure of America began analyzing the disconnected youth population in 2012, these data were not available. This research is essential to provide policymakers, business leaders, philanthropists, community leaders with the up-to-date data they need to target and tailor their interventions and assess the effectiveness of their efforts.

Measure of America has produced eight national-level reports on youth disconnection, most recently in July 2021, as well as a study of long-term impacts, several briefs about disconnection at the congressional district level, and an interactive data tool.

Check out Career360: An Employer-Led Approach to Bridging the Opportunity Divide, a white paper about youth disconnection in Chicago co-authored by Measure of America and LeadersUp.


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Nationally: The 2019 youth disconnection rate is 10.7 percent, or one in nine young people, down from 11.2 percent in 2018. The country’s disconnected youth are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty, more than three times as likely to have a disability, more than twice as likely to lack health insurance, and more than twenty times more likely to be institutionalized compared to connected youth. Disconnected youth 21-24 years old are less than half as likely to have a bachelor’s degree as their connected counterparts. Disconnected young women are over four times as likely to be mothers as their connected peers.

Race and ethnicity: Native American youth had the highest disconnection rate (22.1 percent) of any major racial or ethnic group, followed by Black (16.7 percent), Latino (12.1 percent), white (8.8 percent), and Asian (5.7 percent) young people. Across all these groups, youth disconnection fell from 2018 to 2019.

Gender: Women had a lower youth disconnection rate (10.3 percent) than men (11.0 percent); however, this gap varied by race and ethnicity. The largest racial gender gap existed between Black young women (13.7 percent) and Black young men (19.5 percent). Native American men’s youth disconnection rate of 23.3 percent was the highest for any race/gender combination.

Public use microdata areas (PUMAs): PUMAs are areas defined by the US Census Bureau; they have populations of at least 100,000 people. To create these geographies, urban counties are split into many PUMAs (Los Angeles has 69, for example) and sparsely populated rural counties are joined together. The result is places with similarly-sized population groups that allow for apples-to-apples comparisons. The ten best-performing PUMAs can all be found in affluent sections of large cities or in well-to-do suburbs of major metro areas, and all have youth disconnection rates below 3 percent. The ten PUMAs facing the greatest challenges have youth disconnection rates that range from 28.9 percent to 35.0 percent. Two types of communities are found in this group: low-income, majority-minority neighborhoods in large metro areas, and isolated rural areas characterized by long-term, deep poverty.

States: North Dakota has the lowest youth disconnection rate of any state (6.6 percent) and Alaska has the highest (18.7 percent). Washington D.C. experienced the largest increase in the share of disconnected young people, from 10.7 percent in 2018 to 15.6 percent in 2019. Idaho saw the largest drop in disconnection from 13.1 percent in 2018 to 8.6 percent in 2019, a decrease of 34 percent.

Metro areas: Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH (6.0 percent) boasts the lowest disconnection rate of any metro area in the country. The highest rate of disconnection can be found in Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC (17.9 percent).

Counties: Rural counties have by far the highest average rate of youth disconnection, 17.3 percent; suburban counties have the lowest, 9.9 percent. County youth disconnection rates have the greatest range of any unit of geography. Virginia’s Harrisonburg City, a small city, has the lowest rate of youth disconnection in the country (2.2 percent), while the East Carroll Parish in Louisiana has the highest youth disconnection rate (81.0 percent).


Covid-19 has likely erased ten years’ progress in reducing the national youth disconnection rate in a matter of months. It is difficult, at the height of the pandemic, to make recommendations for a future whose landscape we cannot yet divine. Nonetheless, a few things are clear. The 2020 youth disconnection rate will spike, and disconnected youth and their families will be hit the hardest. Read about challenges and recommendations here.